"This is adding insult to injury," Vijay Shriwardhankar, whose two children were deported by Mumbai airport immigration officials, commented about an explanation from the Indian embassy in Washington, DC, into the incident.
"In fact I forgot about the whole nightmare till I saw the response from Anil K Gupta, minister, community affairs, at the embassy. I feel terribly upset by what the officials continue to say," Shriwardhankar, who returned to Boston, Massachusetts, on January 21 after a visit with his family to India, said.
The immigration officials sent back seven-year-old Viraj and three-and-half-year-old Vrishabh, two hours after they landed in Mumbai on December 12. Both children are American citizens, and their parents are Indian citizens holding US green cards.
The family had forgotten to carry their Indian visas. The immigration officials refused to issue transit visas to the children and, therefore, the family flew back to Boston on the return Air France flight.
Two weeks later, on December 26, they went back again, this time by Etihad Airlines from New York, buying new tickets that cost them nearly $5000.
Air France did not compensate them for their tickets, though the airline did not check the children's visas before issuing them the ticket and boarding pass.
The whole incident had sparked off a discussion, and Gupta sent this message to rediff.com on January 17:
'A few weeks back, we came across a news item captioned Mumbai immigration deports NRI children and also an email under circulation containing some very critical comments against the alleged inhumane and indifferent attitude of Indian immigration authorities.
'We caused an enquiry into the matter to ascertain the facts, which we are sharing with you.
'The children landed at the airport without Indian visa or Person of Indian Origin card. The Airport FRRO offered a Temporary Landing Permit for the minors on payment of US$ 80, which the parents did not agree to.
'Accordingly, a 'refused to land notice' was issued against the children with instructions to the airline staff to keep them in their custody until their PIO cards were arranged.
'Arranging the requisite permit would have taken 2-3 days time, but the airline was not willing to keep the children in its custody for that long and instead offered to take them back to US on the next flight, to which the parents also agreed.
'The allegation of denial of temporary or transit visa for the minors is not correct.
'It is further stated that the allegation of allowing entry to the French national who did not possess a visa was also incorrect as he was also sent back by the same flight,' the letter noted.
"This is ridiculous and shameful, they don't have the courage to tell the truth about what happened that day," Shriwardhankar said. "This time I met DCP Deven Bharati, who is in charge of the immigration in Mumbai, and explained the December 12 incident and he apologised many times for whatever happened with the kids and as per his instructions, ACP Chavan who was in charge on January 20 morning, when we were returning, gave us flowers and chocolates and also apologised.
"Bharati assured me that such incidents will not happen again. I wanted to forget the whole thing after the apology and assurance. But reading the letter from the embassy, I feel I must shed some light on the lie," he added.
Shriwardhankar said he and his wife Vrushali literally begged the ACP to give a transit or temporary visa to the children and were ready to pay any amount. But he did not even listen to their plea. "We landed in Mumbai by Air France after purchasing tickets costing $5000. When we were sent back we lost that money. Two weeks later we spent another $5000 to purchase new tickets to go back again. So claiming that we refused to pay $80 is insane.
"In fact we were begging them to give our sons a TLP at whatever cost. Initially the ACP kept saying he cannot issue a TLP since it was not an emergency situation. After an hour he wanted to see the fax copy of the visa before issuing the TLP.
"I called my friend in Boston to fax those papers as soon as possible. That's why I was begging both Air France and immigration to allow us to wait till they receive the fax. In fact Air France received the fax 10 minutes after our flight left. I knew this because my brother got those faxed papers from Air France office. My sons had to travel again for another 24 hours just because people on duty that day didn't have any humanity," he said.
He termed Gupta's claim that the immigration official wrote a 'refused to land notice' with instructions to the airline staff to keep them in their custody until their PIO cards were arranged, as another lie.
"I have the copy of 'notice of refused to land' that says clearly to remove the passenger immediately by the same/first available flight. To our bad luck, there was a flight almost ready to depart. We were literally dragged to board the flight. I was asking for another alternative but the official was just adamant on sending us back," Shriwardhankar said.
He also questioned the claim that the airline was not willing to keep the children in its custody for 2-3 days and instead offered to take them back to the US on the next flight, to which the parents also agreed
"In fact I requested them to send me back alone to bring the visa documents. But the ACP was deaf towards us. He went to his office without even finding any solution to the situation. Air France used our return ticket without our permission to deport us back to USA," Shriwardhankar said. "Do you think anyone will go though so much pain instead of paying $80? This is so ridiculous, they are trying to cover up their mistake by lying.
"The officials were about to give the TLP to the French national when my wife asked them why they can't allow the same facility to us also. It enraged the officer and he denied the TLP to the French national also," he said.